This week we start in the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany, where the finance ministers of the world's 20 richest countries have been meeting. They spent part of their time discussing a set of investment deals in Africa. Then to Pretoria, the political capital of South Africa, where speculation is rife about a mysterious break-in at the offices of the Chief Justice. To the north-east in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta has sent troops to quell growing violence in the drought-hit Rift Valley ahead of this year's elections.
And finally, there is a new gust of interest by banks and energy companies in the prospects for relaunching Nigeria's economy. Mostly, they agree that the government's new plan makes much sense but they want assurance that there is political agreement over the imposition of some key foreign exchange and security measures.
AFRICA/G-20 FINANCE MINISTERS: Germany's investment compact plan wins wider support
The G-20 finance ministers meeting under Germany's leadership in Baden-Baden took time off from the global rows over economic nationalism and protectionism last Friday (17 March) to push forward the Compact for Africa, which is aimed at steering more private investment into the continent.
This year, Germany will have one of the biggest allocations for development aid in the world but its officials say they want to use much more of this funding to back sustainable businesses in Africa. Their argument is that well-run businesses should generate a much bigger domestic base which would boost the region's economic independence.
Endorsing the plan to push private capital into Africa, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's finance minister, told the meeting, 'We may not leave Africa's potential unused.' Schäuble envisaged an activist campaign by G-20 governments to corral international organisations and corporations to raise capital for commercial projects in Africa. Such measures could include backing for risk insurance in less stable countries and special incentives from rich economies to persuade companies to look more seriously at Africa's economic potential.
On this model, Germany has launched several bilateral investment partnerships with African countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia. Each is implementing an agreed package of measures to cut the risks of investment in their economies.
Alongside the ethical issues of global inequities, Schäuble argued that the 20 biggest economies had a strong self-interest to act on the lack of investment capital in Africa saying, 'Beyond the moral question of raising Africans' living standards, the continent's development is crucial to reducing geopolitical risks …investment in Africa is still low, depriving people in African countries of opportunities to improve their lives.'
Morocco's finance minister, Mohamed Boussaïd, a special invitee to the summit, said that the initiative was the first time there had been a coordinated effort by the world's biggest economies to address the demand for investment.
Much of the resulting capital, he argued, be would be likely to be channelled through the continent's most dynamic economies. Morocco would almost certainly be one of them; it raised its African profile through a heavy diplomatic campaign over the past year which culminated in the kingdom's re-admission to the African Union.
SOUTH AFRICA: Mysterious computer thefts at the Chief Justice's offices follow a string of anti-government rulings
Human rights activists say last weekend's (18-19 March) burglary at the offices of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in which at least 15 computers were stolen raises serious suspicions. Although campaigners have produced no direct evidence of political complicity, the raids follow last Friday's High Court ruling that the appointment of Berning Ntlemeza as head of the Hawks, the elite police investigation unit, was unlawful.
Nathi Mncube, a spokesman for the Chief Justice, said the computers held the personal records of 250 judges and the theft represented 'a huge setback for the administration of justice' in the country. The computers also contained important information about cases on which the Chief Justice and the Constitutional Court are expected to rule. The raid came almost exactly a year after a similar break-in at the Helen Suzman Foundation three days after it filed an application with the Pretoria High Court to suspend Ntlemeza's directorship of the Hawks (AC Vol 57 No 7, Night of the generals).
On 17 March, the Constitutional Court, the country's highest judicial body, ordered the government to pay all social grants due to some 17 million South Africans on 1 April despite the chaos in the country's social welfare department under Minister Bathabile Dlamini. The court lambasted Dlamini's stewardship of the department, saying that she should pay the social grants from her own pocket if the department was unable to do it.
The row over Dlamini's future is yet another issue dividing the African National Congress. Although ANC MPs say the social development ministry is in chaos, President Jacob Zuma has strongly defended her throughout the crisis.
Many in the ANC and the opposition want Zuma to sack Dlamini but she has emerged as one of his strongest allies over the past year. She is also President of the ANC Women's League and is spearheading the campaign to elect Zuma's ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as the ANC's next President. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called Zuma's defence of Dlamini as 'incomprehensible'.
KENYA: Kenyatta sends in troops against armed cattle-rustlers
To the latest worries grow about the timetable and the credibility of national elections due in August can be added concerns about a succession of raids by armed herders in the Rift Valley and neighbouring regions (See AC Vol 57 No 6, Bye-election fever).
On 17 March, President Uhuru Kenyatta sent troops to Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Pokot and Laikipia to confront and disarm the herders. The political base of Deputy President William Ruto, the Rift Valley has long been some of the most heavily-contested political terrain in Kenya. It saw some of the most horrific violence in the aftermath of the disputed elections in 2007. Should the violence worsen it could delay or affect the outcome of the national elections.
There is no apparent partisan link to the latest violence but it reflects growing frustration with deteriorating economic and environmental conditions in areas of the country that used to have some of its most productive agricultural lands. The drought is the worst in over a decade.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery says that at least 380 people have been arrested since the beginning of the month in Baringo and Laikipia in connection with the violence.
NIGERIA: Policy and security questions cast shadow over economic relaunch plan
As discussion continues in Abuja about the implementation of the government's plan to relaunch the economy, several banks and energy companies are assessing the feasibility of Nigeria's mooted expansion of its oil and gas companies. The biggest barrier to those ambitious plans remains political: both arguments over the liberalisation of foreign exchange policy and the regulation of financial institutions as well as continuing concerns about security of oil production facilities and personnel in the Niger Delta.
On 17 March, Standard & Poor's ratings agency said it was extremely bullish on the prospects for a strong recovery in Nigeria's economy over the next three years. But it added that it wouldn't forecast an early fix to the country's chronic foreign exchange crisis. The government's plan envisages ramping up oil production to 2.5 million barrels a day and building two more world-scale plants to export liquefied natural gas.
A report by Ecobank, the pan-African commercial and investment bank, forecasts a substantial boost to gas production in Nigeria, which has the ninth biggest reserves in the world. Ecobank says Nigeria will have to expand gas production for local use: at the moment, just 16.25% of the country's gas is utilised locally, compared with 43.75% for export and 31.25% for re-injection into local oil and gas fields. The rest is flared.
At the beginning of the month, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo attended the grand launch of a project backed by South Korean and Dubai-based investors, to build a Gas Industrial Park near Warri, in the Niger Delta. The park which would include factories making fertilisers, petrochemicals and aluminium.
The latest plan to expand production at the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company's plant on Bonny Island would go a long way to meeting the government's aim of winning 10% of the global market for LNG (see AC Vol 58 No 6, Mega-projects await reforms).